Holes in Seahawks office complicate free agency

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Exactly one month removed from becoming one of the most coveted players in the unrestricted free agent market, Seattle tailback Shaun Alexander allowed here on Wednesday that the uncertain status of the Seahawks' front office could well be a factor in determining where he continues his NFL career in 2005.

The top spot in the front office has been vacant since owner Paul Allen announced in mid-January that president of football operations Bob Whitsitt would not return to the franchise in 2005 after eight seasons with the club. The Seahawks have spoken with a number of candidates but are not expected to whittle the list of preliminary contenders until next week, when final interviews might begin.

Such a perceived lack of urgency has not escaped the notice of Alexander, who was here for an awards ceremony.

"I don't want to say [the organization] is dragging its feet, because I really don't know all the inside stuff, everything that is going on," said Alexander after the concluding one of several radio interviews. "But the clock is ticking. As a player, a guy who thinks that we have a team capable of doing some damage if we can hold it together, you would love to see everybody come back again. But with the situation like it is, and with things unsettled as to who is calling the shots, you just don't know."

General manager Bob Ferguson and head coach Mike Holmgren, who relinquished the general manager position last year, remain with the team. But until Allen fills the position held by Whitsitt, the structure of the Seattle football operation is unresolved.

The Seahawks have 16 veterans eligible to become unrestricted free agents on March 2, and that list features eight starters, including Alexander, quarterback Matt Hasselback, perennial Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Walter Jones, cornerback Ken Lucas, defensive end Chike Okeafor and center Robbie Tobeck.

Seattle could use the "franchise" marker to retain one of the players, and Alexander figures to be a possibility in that regard, but it is all but a given that the Seahawks roster will suffer some defections.

Asked how he might react if the Seahawks failed to sign him to a long-term extension, but limited his mobility by designating him a "franchise" player, Alexander said that he will deal with that element of free agency when it occurs. He emphasized his desire to return to Seattle, and possibly even finish his career there, but acknowledged that he will explore every option.

"Money will be a factor, for sure, but not necessarily the biggest one," Alexander said. "I want to be at a Super Bowl where I'm playing in it, not here as a spectator, you know? So that is important to me. Lifestyle. A good place for my family. Security. All those things will be [factored] in to the equation."

Several reporters who cover franchises seeking to upgrade at tailback in the offseason -- Cincinnati, Miami, Tampa Bay among them -- questioned Alexander about the potential of moving to those cities. He agreed that all those places, and others, are possibilities for 2005.
Alexander said he was "definitely intrigued by Miami." And he cited his relationship with some former LSU coaches -- whom he said spoke glowingly of former Tigers coach Nick Saban, now the head coach of the Dolphins, who desperately need a tailback to replace the retired Ricky Williams -- in hinting where he might wind up in 2005.

Alexander, 27, rushed for a career-best 1,696 yards and 16 touchdowns on 353 carries in 2004. In five seasons, the former Alabama star, the Seahawks' first-round selection in the 2000 draft, has carried 1,347 times for 5,937 yards and 62 touchdowns, while appearing in 80 games and starting in 60 of them. Alexander also has 173 receptions for 1,309 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The consensus is that Alexander, who wasn't always held in the highest regard by some Seattle coaches during his tenure there, ran much harder in 2004 than in the past.
After losing the league rushing title by one yard to Curtis Martin of the New York Jets, an emotional Alexander claimed he had been "stabbed in the back" because Holmgren did not get him the one more carry that would have likely provided necessary yardage. He was critical of Holmgren's call, a quarterback sneak by Hasselbeck, from the one-yard line late in the regular-season finale.

On Wednesday, he attempted to soften his remarks, for which he apologized just one day after making them. He called the remarks "overjuiced" and, predictably, suggested that the media had played them out of proportion "to make it seem like I was a selfish player." Alexander said that he and Holmgren are close, that he would have no problem returning to play again for the veteran coach, and that he hoped things would work out that way.

"But if they don't, well, you move on and deal with it," Alexander said. "I have to take care of me and my family and to keep all the options out there in front of me. If it was up to me, I'd prefer to have the whole thing settled in two weeks. But you can't even say if the whole front office situation will be settled in that [timeframe]. That's something I'll definitely be keeping tabs on."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.